The Gospel of Wake Self: After his passing, the lyrics and activism of Andrew Martinez are felt in N.M. and beyond

by Nick Gonzales

On Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019, Andrew Martinez was scheduled to headline a release party at Santa Fe’s Meow Wolf for “Ready to Live,” his sophomore album as hip-hop artist Wake Self. The Sunday night prior to the show, however, Martinez was driving with mural artist Kevin Allende when his car was struck by a truck.

According to police reports, the driver of the truck, Diego Pichardo, was impaired and driving at a speed up to 60 mph on the wrong side of the road. All three men were hospitalized.

That Tuesday, Martinez died.

The hip-hop community — and the state of New Mexico as a whole — experienced an incredible loss that day. Wake Self was not just a skillful emcee but also a community activist whose influence will ripple through the community indefinitely. And the messages contained in his work have only increased in relevance as the world has changed in the year since his death.

OriginsAs he points out in the opening verses of his song, “New Mexico,” Andrew Martinez was born at the Eastern New Mexico Medical Center in Roswell. His family then moved to Fort Wingate, a town just west of Gallup that his brother, Eric Martinez, describes as a border town on the Navajo Nation.

“That’s kind of like where our roots came from — being around a lot of Native Americans as we were younger and as we grew up,” he said. [video:1]

Their father, Alfred Martinez, is a principal and basketball coach, and, as a result, the family was involved in the community. He’s also at least partially responsible for his sons’ love of hip-hop and rap, exposing them to his generation’s soul, rock, and blues. Despite having problems with the public school system, Andrew became a student of music at a young age, finding his skill as a lyricist and writer when he was about 13 or 14 years old, Eric said.

Andrew wanted to get his voice out there and found the opportunity to do so at Gallup’s Foundations of Freedom dance studio. In addition to breakdancing classes, the studio was a spot to form cyphers, informal circles where rappers, beatboxers, and breakdancers can jam together.

“That’s kind of where he honed his craft, and where he made his bones in the community is just in these communities, with other people who were seeking other things like him. He learned to dance, he learned to rap, he learned to paint,” Eric said.

It was also where Andrew met Christopher Mike-Bidtah, who would end up performing as internationally-touring emcee Def-I. After hearing Bidtah rap, Andrew approached him and asked him if he’d like to cypher after the jam. He was too shy to take the mic at the time, but he was inspired by Eric’s on-mic rapping, and exchanged verses with Bidtah, who was a few years older than him. Bidtah recognized a kindred spirit in Andrew because of how seriously he was interested in rapping, and they became very good friends.

[image:2]Andrew’s parents let Bidtah take him to places like Tuscon, Arizona. As they got to know each other, they became effectively nomadic, constantly seeking out hip-hop communities and opportunities to rap around the region.

“They were the ones that kind of kicked it off for themselves. They would go out and tour wherever there was a hip hop show — Gallup, Albuquerque, Farmington, Shiprock, everywhere in the Four Corners area. And that’s kind of where they gained their popularity and kind of the base of their other fan base,” Eric said.

Definition RareAt some point in there, Def-I and CloudFace, a fellow New Mexican musical and visual artist, formed the group Definition Rare. As Andrew became Wake Self, they absorbed him into the crew as well. By the time Andrew was 18, he had dropped out of school and moved with Def-I to Albuquerque to immerse himself in the lifestyle at the core of the New Mexican hip-hop scene.

They were limited by the fact that they were both minors at first, but as Def-I got old enough to get into 21+ venues, Wake would stand outside, watching and listening until people would come outside. After hearing him outside on the street on several occasions, bar managers drafted waivers for Wake to sign so he could come inside and rap, Bidtah said.

[image:3]“By the time (Andrew) was in his early 20s, he wasn’t actually allowed to do rap battles anymore because he would win them so often that it was discouraging to the other emcees that were trying to come up and do their thing,” Eric said. “That evolved into him throwing his own shows. So he would host rap battles and he would host beat battles, and they would get emcees from all over the place and producers from all over the place to come out and be able to show off their skills in the venue in front of a packed crowd.”

Despite coming of age while performing in bars and the like, Wake chose to live a sober lifestyle in his early 20s.

The sphere of Wake’s influence grew to the point, Def-I said, that when he died, people reached out from around the world. Wake and Def-I’s careers took them different places, but it seemed like they still worked together as much as they worked apart.

[image:6]In addition to highlights such as performing with rap legend Masta Ace and being part of the line up at the Meow Wolf Taos Vortex in 2019, one of Def-I’s fondest memories of Wake Self was their first time performing under the San Juan River Bridge in Shiprock. DJ Cedro (“the Kool Herc on the rez for us,” said Def-I) organized the first Under the Bridge show and asked Wake and Def-I to perform. He was the first DJ to hand them a mic, Def-I said.

“We’d helped him set up — kind of cleaned up down underneath and started putting an event on — we just freestyled the whole day because we didn’t have a lot of emcees come out to fulfill a full festival time. So it was mostly just us rapping and freestyling a lot, but I was like damn, Andrew was really killing it right then and there, and I was amazed by how much skills he had built back then,” he said.

The Under the Bridge jam became a part of the annual Northern Navajo Nation Fair and a tradition for Wake Self and Def-I. The 2019 jam was the last time they performed together.

Conscious rapIf Wake Self’s love of music came from his father, his activism is rooted in his mother. Barbara Martinez was diagnosed with breast cancer when Andrew was in his teens, Eric Martinez said, and it weighed heavily on him. His mother survived the disease, but the experience forced Andrew to gain a lot of perspective on mortality, spirituality, and the human condition at a very young age. And it stuck with him — his mother is mentioned in almost every album.

[image:4]He formed a set of beliefs, which he preached frequently in his lyrics, centered around taking care of oneself so one can practice altruism.

“He had a model at the end that he was trying to market to everybody: ‘Self care, self love, self worth,’” Eric said. “He would say, ‘If you can’t take care of yourself first, you can’t take care of the people around you.’”

In “Love Myself,” he raps: “If your skin is different (love)/if your bank account insufficient (love)/made mistakes, made wrong decisions and if you’re insecure about your body image (love)/when I got nobody and I don’t know where to go/hurtin’ and I really need someone to help/if it all fall apart, if it all falls down/till the Sun comes out imma love myself.” [video:2]

His activism took a variety of forms and encompassed a variety of issues — he’s traveled as far as Hawaii to attend demonstrations for women’s rights, and to Washington, D.C., with Def-I, to rally for native water rights. Regardless of what this issue was, however, Wake was only in if it was positive, inclusive, and nonviolent.

These values are perhaps most readily on display in his 2017 album “Malala,” which he was inspired to create after reading Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai’s memoir, “I am Malala.” The album’s titular song takes on the portrayal of women in American culture, particularly the world of hip-hop. He raps:

“Dear world, it’s so upsetting to me/that our economy has turned misogyny to a revenue stream/let us see through the lies discover/why the entertainment industry taught us how to dehumanize each other/and all these rappers are scared to explore the topic/of how our human nature is exploited for corporate profit.”

Andrew’s partner, filmmaker Noor-un-nisa Touchon, said during the time she knew him, he prioritized community, especially investing in the youth, while giving everything he could to his music.

[image:5]“Through his music, his sole purpose was to just uplift and inspire everyone around him, specifically the young people in his community,” she said. “He went to like a detention center pretty regularly and spoke to the kids there, and he spent a lot of time at Warehouse Five O’eight (a youth arts center in Albuquerque), working with kids there as well.”

The year it’s beenThe cruel irony that Wake Self, who cared deeply about activism and social justice, did not live to see the movements that have occurred in 2020 is not lost on those close to him.

“I feel like this was kind of the year that he was waiting for, like a really huge turning point,” Touchon said. “He would have seen this as a very pivotal moment for everything, for everyone. I feel like his lyrics and everything he’s been pointing towards and everything he’s been preaching about is really related to this moment. I think he would have seen this is a year that he would have wanted everyone to reevaluate themselves and reevaluate the world around them.”

Wake would almost certainly be at the forefront of a local movement, his brother said.

“He would have been the loudest voice in the room, I can tell you that much. He would have been out in the streets, I’m pretty sure he would have been organizing demonstrations, probably from Santa Fe to Albuquerque,” Eric said. “But his message would remain the same — it would have been very positive, very inclusive of everybody. It wouldn’t have been something of violence or anger or anything like that. He wanted to advocate more for change, more for a better culture than what it’s become today. … He believed that humans are inherently good, and that vision of having a society that was positive and inclusive was very real to him.”

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Wake’s spirit lives on, however, both in the work he created and the people he touched.

Raashan Ahmad, emcee and member of the Crown City Rockers, befriended Wake Self and Def-I after moving to Santa Fe — especially after they took him on a tour of the state. Now, he passes the location where the crash happened and remembers Wake.

“Sometimes I’ll stop there and just kind of parlay. When the album came out, I remember listening to it on repeat and just driving by there laughing because you could hear him,” he said. “You can simultaneously be in this zone listening to his music where you’re just gonna be here and vibe out, or just dance or just turn up. But if you’re in another space in your day, that same song could make you really think about your life and how you’re living it, and what you possibly can contribute, and how you can think a little bit different.”

Most hip-hop heads in New Mexico have been touched by Wake, Ahmad said, and he’s influenced groups such as the Outstanding Citizens Collective, a group of artists inspired by the collaborative and communal principles of hip-hop culture to combine artistic expression with public service.

“He was always pushing to just be better and better, to be a better emcee and be a better community worker — just to constantly be elevating. It’s really, really, really great to be around that scene,” Ahmad said.

When it comes to individual artists who are carrying on Wake’s legacy, Eric Martinez mentions Dahhm Life, an emcee who formed a group called Zoology and released an album with Wake. His work carries messages similar to those of Wake, and he practices a similarly mindful way of life. But Eric even more emphatically points toward Def-I himself.

“I can’t stress enough, he’s probably the hardest-working, do-it-yourself independent artist in the world right now. I can’t think of anybody else,” Eric said. “He carries on that legacy because he has the same type of mindset and demeanor, the same type of positive message. And it makes sense because they were best friends.”

Continued workWake Self’s album “Ready to Live” was released posthumously alongside the music video for his single “No Vacancy,” which was conceptualized by Touchon and directed by Alec Brown. In it, Wake portrays a gangster seeking New Mexico chiles and he won’t be duped by inferior Colorado chiles. [video:3]

A second posthumous music video that Touchon worked on, “Holy Water,” is currently screening as part of the American Indian Film Festival and has been nominated for Best Music Video. It has already won Best Music Video and Best New Mexico Short at the Mindfield Film Festival in Albuquerque and received an honorable mention at the Independent Shorts Film Festival.

Touchon said it wasn’t necessarily a song that Wake wanted to do a music video for, but when she came up with a strong idea for one, they began filming it in March of 2019. She directed it, and it features animations by Alec Brown. She said it will be released to the public by the end of November.

Touchon said she has a bunch of material featuring Wake Self and wants to work on a nonfiction project about him. She is currently considering ways to tell Andrew’s story, such as a documentary or podcast.

Similarly, Def-I said he is working on rounding up songs that he and Wake had recorded for an unreleased EP they had worked on. If and when he gets them all together, he plans to revisit them and see where he can go from there.

Def-I recorded an album called “Deserted Oceans” with hip-hop artist Ariano and released it in March, almost immediately before the pandemic hit. As events dried up, they released a bonus track called “American Quarantine,” and Ariano also remixed and re-released the album as “Oceans Deserted.” [video:4]

As part of DDAT, a fusion project with the jazz-playing Delbert Anderson Trio, Def-I is working on a musical based on a concept album titled “Naat’áanii.” It tells the story of a character who is a talented traditional dancer, but who wants to leave the reservation, travel the world, and seek out the hip-hop scene.

Def-I is also set to release a new solo album called “DRZLTN” on Nov. 20. (Eric Martinez was not kidding when he said Def-I is hardworking).

As 2020 starts to conclude and — hopefully — begins to improve, people can still draw inspiration from the rhythmic catalog of Wake Self.

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